Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 3, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 3, 2003

Gift Ideas For Your Favorite Public Officials
Now that Thanksgiving is safely out of the way, we can turn our thoughts back to the final important action of the year – shopping for Christmas presents.
That’s why each year I offer my Gift Guide for Public Officials in the hope that readers motivated by appreciation of public servants and other newsmakers will be able to send that perfect gift.
Try these:
County Manager Al Crace has done a good job putting together the courthouse project. If you can swing it, have the courthouse named for him. “Craceland” has a nice sound to it and fits the scope of the building.
Harold Fletcher, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, wants a promotion. Since God’s position is taken, how about Pope? Or has somebody else already given him that?
Commissioners Stacey Britt and Sammy Thomason want votes in the General Primary. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, just tell them you will - it’ll be long after Christmas before they find out you were lying. Commissioners Emil Beshara and Tony Beatty don’t need votes, but they’d really, really like a water and sewerage authority. They’re already tired of playing with their courthouse.
Speaking of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority, its manager, Jerry Waddell, would like a gag gift, which he would use on his former girlfriend. Elton Collins, who chairs the authority, is in bad need of patience. The Jackson County commissioners used his all up.
Andy Byers, superintendent of the Jackson County School System, would like $119 million added back to the county tax digest – or the cash that it would bring to the school system. Commerce superintendent of schools Larry White just wants you to spend a lot of money in Jackson County so sales tax revenue will pick up enough to build new administrative offices.
City Manager Clarence Bryant wants a cold winter so gas sales will go way up to offset the low electricity sales of the past summer. Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. would like a major industry dropped in his stocking to replace the one Commerce almost landed. Pepe Cummings, president of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, would like two major industries that will promise to build in Commerce. Just to stop the bitching.
We don’t yet know who will be the new administrator at BJC Medical Center. But whomever it is would love to have a general surgeon under the Christmas tree.
Arcade Mayor Doug Haynie wants a city sewer system. Maybe he’d settle for a large septic tank? Sheriff Stan Evans covets a new jail for the criminals, and the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County would like the county commissioners as its first occupants. if not that, then get them a favorable Supreme Court ruling.
Nicholson Mayor Ronnie Maxwell wants a way to have zoning without calling it zoning. Commerce Police Chief John Gaissert would like a department Homeland Security Humvee, while children’s librarian Catherine Harris would kill for an autographed photo of John Ashcroft.
Nothing for me, thanks.


Editorial
The Commerce News
December 3, 2003

City Should Be Selective About Annexations
It appears that in weeks to come the Commerce Planning Commission and Commerce City Council will be asked yet again to annex and provide utilities for a 30-acre tract that the city has rejected several times already this year.
The 30-acre tract on W.E. King Road beyond the Commerce bypass is, by admission of the previous would-be developer, an ugly tract of land. It has been proposed in the past for annexation as a subdivision, first for very small houses and later for mid-size houses.
The developer wanted annexation for obvious reasons – to get water and sewer lines run to the property so he could sell lots and houses and make money.
There is minimal benefit to Commerce in annexing most residential subdivisions. It is true that population affects the city’s share of local option sales taxes, but the corresponding costs to educate the children and provide police and fire protection and other services to new residents more than offset the benefits. The annexation of residential property places additional burden on the taxpayers of the city. If the city is willing to provide water or sewer service to development outside the city limits, the developers should pay 100 percent of the costs for the line extensions, plus all of the normal tap fees.
In the past, the tendency of the planning commission and city council regarding annexation/development requests has been to negotiate with the developer or owner to make the project more attractive (in some cases, less unappealing). That is not enough. The city council and planning commission must look at each annexation/rezoning request in terms of its potential benefits to the city, not as though the city has an obligation to help a developer or landowner bring a project to fruition. “Does the benefit to the city outweigh the cost to the city?” is the ultimate question that should be asked of each development before it is considered for annexation.
Commerce will struggle with the pressures of growth for the foreseeable future. The key is not to be anti-growth but to adopt policies and practices to assure that what growth arrives is beneficial to the city. Some developments are beneficial; some aren’t. Some add to the quality of life in Commerce, but many do not. Commerce needs to be very selective as it considers the proposals developers will bring before it in the upcoming months and years.

Don’t Impede ‘Study’
A majority of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority members have repeatedly opposed participation in an initiative by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to do a “needs analysis” and efficiency study of the authority. The authority realizes that the exercise is a ploy by the Board of Commissioners to build support for its takeover of the authority.
Nonetheless, the authority should not impede the “study,” which the BOC plans to undertake regardless of authority participation. The BOC has a right to demand information and documents, which the authority should provide without delay or complaint. On the other hand, the authority is not obligated to and should neither spend time providing redundant information nor take its employees away from their jobs to accommodate the politicians’ pet project.
Regardless of the motive, because the authority is a public institution, its records are public and open to scrutiny and analysis by anyone – the county commissioners or their staff, the public or the press. The Open Records Act provides no exceptions relating for cases of political schenanigans.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 3, 2003

Survey results not always what they seem
In an article elsewhere in this edition, 17 percent of eighth graders in the Jackson County School System said they had participated in “gang” activity.
That’s an alarming number and if I believed it were accurate, I’d be the first to call for action.
But like so many statistics that flood our lives, this one seems distorted. I suspect that most eighth-graders in Jackson County only have some vague, television-inspired concept of what a “gang” is. I doubt seriously that 17 percent are affiliated with a gang.
That’s not to say that gangs are not in the area. Both neighboring Hall and Gwinnett counties report serious gang problems. It’s not impossible that some of those problems have influenced a few kids in Jackson County.
But a quick check with local law enforcement reveals no serious gang problems in Jackson County. The number of 17 percent is, I believe, a gross distortion of what is really happening.
But some other numbers from the school system report do seem fairly accurate. Some 63 percent of 10th graders reported using alcohol in 2003 and 40 percent said they have used marijuana. While the 40 percent figure may be a little on the high side, the percentage of teens drinking is probably low.
What does all of that tell us? Perhaps it shows a trend, but my gut feeling is that some of those numbers haven’t changed much since the 1970s when I was in high school. How we deal with those problems today has changed. Schools are more proactive in addressing what is seen as unsafe behavior among students.
And yet, the behavior continues.

***

In a related report, a recent national survey done by the Girl Scouts had some interesting results. The study of teen girls’ top fears revealed that it wasn’t violence that worried girls the most — it was rejection, or as the study phrased it, “emotional safety.”
Said the study: “Most girls in the study define safety through their relationships with others. Girls say they feel safest when they are with people they love, with mothers and fathers topping the list. However, as teens grow older their trust in adults tends to diminish. The study reveals that almost one-quarter of teens have fewer than three adults they can go to if they are in trouble or need help.”
The study also said that girls were afraid of being teased. Some 32 percent of the girls said being teased worried them most in their everyday lives.
Said one 12-year-old girl: “A broken arm can heal, but what about a broken heart? Words can hurt a lot.”
A 15-year-old had this to say: “A lot of people tease. Rather than physical bullying, there’s a lot of emotional bullying, like judging, [and] I don’t like that.”
Well, no one likes being teased, but if that’s the worst thing teenage girls have to worry about, then perhaps our schools aren’t as unsafe as we sometimes think. We as parents are worried about violence and drug abuse, but some of our kids seem more concerned with being accepted.
Is that a generational disconnect, or are those items more related than it first appears?
I suspect that all of these things are intertwined in ways that are very complex. The need to be accepted will drive some teens into behavior that is often unwise — drugs, alcohol abuse, sex, gang affiliations.
But there is a difference in the normal cycle of teenage angst about being accepted and that is escalating into gang violence or drug abuse.
Schools, however, can only do so much to help keep teens out of trouble. Extracurricular activities are important to helping teens feel accepted and part of a group.
But even that cannot replace the emotional support from home.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
December 3, 2003

View school ‘report cards’ with caution
Starting this week, information about Georgia’s public schools will be available on-line in a new and expanded format. While pieces of school data have been available for several years via the Internet, the new system at www.gaosa.org is supposed to be a comprehensive analysis of school performance.
It is important for the public to have objective information about public schools. No school will admit having major problems.
But we caution parents to look at this data with some caution. Not all of the data is self-evident. For example, the information on “graduation rates” is not the inverse of “dropout rates.” Those two numbers are calculated differently.
While most standardized test scores are not yet posted, when they are put on-line, they should be viewed carefully. Standardized tests in Georgia have become highly political and often used as a way to drive curriculum more than as a measure of student performance.
Also, citizens should look at standardized test scores and other data in light of the demographics of a particular school. Schools that have low overall test scores may be located in an area with a high number of “disadvantaged” children. The school itself may be doing all it can to teach, but the home life of the children may interfere with academic success.
We suspect that while this compilation of information may be of interest to education professionals and some “numbers geeks,” for many parents, it won’t mean very much. There is so much data available it will take hours of study to digest and comprehend.
Still, it is important to have this information in the public domain. Over time, an analysis of this information may prove useful in helping parents better understand both the strengths and weaknesses of their child’s school.


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